It used to be that boosting brainpower meant reading more books, writing more papers and studying more hours — in other words, running didn’t fit into the equation. But lately, there’s good news for all of you runners out there: There’s increased scientific evidence to prove running boosts your brainpower. Here’s how you’ll benefit:
STORE INFORMATION MORE EFFICIENTLY
If you have a new project dumped on your desk at 9 a.m. and spend the morning trying to digest it, a mid-afternoon interval run — around four hours after you took in the information — may boost your retention and recall of that information. A study found that dopamine, noradrenaline and brain-derived neurotrophic factor are released during hard exercise, and those neurotransmitters are key to committing information to memory, explains lead researcher Guillen Fernández.
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Mindfulness is the buzzword of the year for good reason: It’s been linked to various health benefits — from better sleep to weight loss to less anxiety. If you have trouble taking time out of your hectic day for meditation, a running meditation is an easy starting point. Consider downloading a guided meditation or just leave the headphones at home and enjoy stillness and quiet during your run, taking time to focus on your breath as you tick off miles.
BOOST YOUR MEMORY
Exercising has been shown to improve short-term memory in addition to long-term memory, so if you’ve been extra forgetful, a couple more miles might help keep you sharp. Running increases brain cell formation in mice and in humans — and as a result, our penchant for going on a training run can actually help us at work (and in remembering to pick up our kids from soccer practice).
BREEZE THROUGH COMPLEX TASKS
A study of MRI scans of runner’s brains was illuminating: Brain function while running was similar to brain function while playing a musical instrument. So those of us who are tone deaf, but love racking up miles on the road, trail or oval, are in luck: Our brains feature the same connectivity as musicians meaning we have markedly higher functional connectivity than more sedentary individuals. That functioning is important for things like planning, decision-making and multitasking.
BEEF UP YOUR IQ
A 2009 study analyzing 1.2 million Swedish men linked being fit as young adults to having higher IQs and being more likely to go to university after high school. Logical thinking and verbal comprehension on IQ tests accounted for most of the gains made, the study showed. Researchers believe this is partially due to the influx of oxygen the brain receives during exercise.
CRUSH MEETINGS AND COMEBACKS
You know that moment when the perfect witty response is on the tip of your tongue, and then you completely blank on it? Running could help prevent that. A study done at the University of Montreal showed that four months of high-intensity interval training for middle-aged people improved health and cognitive abilities. Participants’ VO2 max increased along with their ability to reason, make memories, pay attention and use our words. In short, get ready to own witty banter at your next party.
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Hundreds of studies have shown that exercise is one of the most helpful treatments for depression, especially when performed outside in nature. Just last year, another study found that exercise’s feel-good vibes are due to the fact that intense exercise increases our levels of neurotransmitters — specifically two that are responsible for messaging in the brain. Exercise also releases feel-good hormones like endorphins. So, if you’re feeling a little down in the afternoon, a quick run with a couple of hard efforts should perk you back up.
APPEAR BETTER LOOKING
This isn’t the same as getting smarter, but it’s certainly worth a mention and an extra mile tacked on to your run, perhaps. A 2015 study at the University of Cambridge found that distance running might be an evolutionary signal for desirable male genes. So, gentlemen, if you love long runs and find yourself being chased down by a few female fans, it’s just science playing matchmaker. Research suggested “good runners were likely to be better persistence hunters and consequently better providers.” In today’s terms, they may be likely to pick a better date-night restaurant.